Biplane fighter aces


Captain Shen Tse-Liu

1912 – 14 March 1941

Shen Tse-Liu was born in 1912 and was a native of the En Ping County in the Kwangtung Province.
His father had emigrated to work in the United States.

After graduating from high school, he entered the Kwangtung Flying School and graduated in 1934.

In July 1936, General Chen Chi-Tang attempted to break away from the central government. This infuriated Shen Tse-Liu and his squadron mates that he flew to Nanchang together with Huang Chu-Ku and others to join the central government air force.

When the war with Japan broke out, he became a flight leader of the 8th PS.

At 13:30 on 15 August 1937 Nanking Air Defence Command received a report that 16 Japanese aircraft had flown past Soochow towards Nanking. The alarm was sounded, and Chinese Air Force fighters took off to meet them. The Japanese aircraft were 20 G3Ms from the Kisarazu Ku. The Japanese aircraft had flown in directly from Ohmura in Japan and landed back at Cheju-do.
From Chu Yung, squadrons of the 3rd PG scrambled their aircraft. Wong Pan-Yang led eight Boeing 281s from the 17th PS. Chen Yau-Wei, Commander of the 8th PS, led five Fiat CR.32 fighters. Scrambled were also seven Hawk IIs from the 28th PS, 5th PG, and one Hawk III and five Hawk II from the 34th Provisional PS.
In the ensuing melee, four G3Ms were shot down and six damaged. Claims were confused but it is generally acknowledged that Captain Wong Sun-Shui (in #1703) downed the first G3M to fall in the Battle of Nanking when the eight Boeings from the 17th PS attacked a flight of six Mitsubishi G3M bombers over Nanking and claimed to have shot them all down without losses. This was the No.4 aircraft in a Shotai that bombed the Ta Hsiao-chang Airfield, most likely the No. 5 Shotai led by Lieutenant Yoshida. 17th PS’ Wong Pan-Yang and Su Ying-Hsien shared one victory at Chu-Yung while Chun Chia-Chu claimed another which crashed south-east of Nanking. Chin Shui-Tin also took part in this interception but didn't claim any aircraft.
The Japanese aircraft fled and the 8th PS went after them. Chen Yau-Wei and Huang Chu-Ku shared a victory near Chu-Yung while Shen Tse-Liu and Liu Chi-Wei together shot down an enemy plane west of Lui Shui.
Captain Chow Ting-Fong, commander of the 34th PS led six Hawks from Chia Hsiang and followed eight Japanese aircraft to Nanking. Captain Chow attacked one of these and shot it down over Fang Shan.
4th PG’s Captain Lee Kuei-Tan led three Hawk IIIs of the 21st PS and Captain Huang Kuang-Han, C.O. of the 22nd PS, led eight Hawk IIIs from Hangchow to Nanking to help in this interception and they also attacked the bombers. Lee Kuei-Tan claimed a shared bomber together with three other pilots. Tan Won and Yuan Chin-Han shared a victory. Cheng Hsiao-Yu, Pa Ching-Cheng and Wu Ting-Chun each claimed one shot down. Wu Ting-Chun’s aircraft was damaged in this combat and he was forced to make an emergency landing. Liang Tian-Cheng claimed two victories. Huang Kuang-Han claimed a Japanese G3M halfway between Nanking and Lui Shui.
Because of low clouds, each group fought on its own with little co-ordination. A total of 14 Japanese aircraft were claimed shot down. Five Chinese aircraft were damaged.

His squadron, which was equipped with Fiat CR.32s suffered heavy casualties in action and the squadron commander Chen Yau-Wei was injured in battle.
Eventually all the other flyers were either killed or injured. Shen took off many times with the sole surviving aircraft of his squadron against great odds when the Japanese attacked, until he was finally shot down.

On 22 September, Japanese A5Ms claimed four victories. At least two Chinese aircraft were damaged and force-landed during the day when Shen Tse-Liu of the 8th PS was wounded in the face. The second aircraft was Boeing 281 no. 1706 flown by Captain Wong Pan-Yang, commander of the 17th PS.

In April 1938, he was commander of a 3rd PG detachment equipped with Polikarpov I-15bis.

On 26 April 1938 Shen Tse-Liu shot down a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft over the airfield of Hsiao Kan near Wuhan.

On 29 April 1938 (Japanese Emperor Hirohito’s birthday) 18 G3M2s of the 13th Kokutai Japanese Naval Air Force (IJNAF) escorted by 27 A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai under the command of Lieutenant Commodore Y. Ozono attacked Wuhan.
The 4th PG at Hankow Field had nine I-15bis, seven I-16s, and two I-16s from the 24th PS. The Russian volunteers had 23 I-15bis and 16 I-16s. The 3rd Group detachment based at Hsiao Kan was equipped with four I-15bis and six I-15bis were from the 17th PS, 5th PG.
Reconnaissance revealed the Japanese intentions in good time and early in the morning at Nanchang’s aerodromes (there were two) the order went out to all to fly to Hankow in flights, at treetop level (altitude no greater than 25 m). By 08:00 a lot of fighters had concentrated there. By 09:00 all the aircraft had been re-fuelled and the pilots were in the cockpits waiting the order to take off. That day dense clouds at several levels covered the sky, beginning at 2000-2500 m.
The first communications from the air warning system (VNOS) began to be received at 10:00. At 14:00, when the Japanese aircraft approached Wuhan fighters were already waiting in the air with sufficient altitude. According the previously drawn up plans, the I-15bis closed in on the Japanese fighters in a pincer attack while the I-16 formation fell upon the bombers.
Mao Ying-Chu, commander of the 4th PG, led nine I-15bis into the battle. Liu Chi-Han and Liu Chung-Wu took off first and met over a reported 20 Japanese aircraft. They each claimed a Japanese aircraft, as did Yang Shen-Yen. Moments later Liu Chung-Wu claimed a second Japanese aircraft. His aircraft was, however, also damaged in this battle.
Teng Ming-Teh led the I-16s of the 4th PG and 24th PS to patrol the airspace over the airfield. The Russians at first left the formation, but then turned around and joined in the battle near Liang Tze Lake. They claimed six Japanese bombers and seven fighters.
During the combat Lieutenant Chen Huai-Min of the 23rd PS claimed a Japanese plane. His plane was then badly damaged and he rammed another Japanese aircraft and both aircraft exploded in mid-air. Chen was killed.
While the combat was in full swing the four I-15bis of 3rd PG and the six I-15bis of 17th PS arrived overhead at 6500 feet south of Wuhan after that the Japanese bombers had dropped their bombs. They immediately joined combat and Shen Tse-Liu, commander of the 3rd PG detachment severely damaged one Japanese bomber. His vice-commander Li Chia-Hsun and Mo Ta-Yen each downed a Japanese bomber. Zhu Jia-Xun flew the fourth 3rd PG I-15bis. During the combat Zhu claimed to have downed one of the G3M2s south-east of Wuchang. This was near the position where two of the IJNAF G3M2s was downed. Many other Chinese and Russian volunteer pilots also made claims so Zhu should probably only be credited with a "shared" kill.
The Russian volunteer Aleksey Dushin told in his memoirs that they took of early, first Aleksey Blagoveshchenskiy, after him the entire group in established order. The I-15bis were to join battle with the fighters. At a height of about 3000m they moved off from Hankow about 100 km in the direction of Nanking, orienting themselves through the gaps in the clouds by the channel of the Yangtze. Not finding the fighters, on a return course, through gaps in the clouds they discovered a large group of bombers approaching on a parallel course. With a sudden attack at close range they right away set fire to three of the bombers, including the formation leader. The formation immediately fell apart and jettisoned its bombs in a rice paddy. In the air, developed dogfights and in various parts of the sky appeared the torches of burning Japanese aircraft. The “Chizhi” chased after the bombers for their full radius of action - more than 200 km. When his ammunition was completely exhausted Dushin ran into two A5Ms but there was nothing he could do to them. A. S. Zingaev’s group, with an advantageous position attacked a group of Japanese bombers on the approaches to the aerodrome, and in their first attack shot down two (Zingaev shot down the leader). In this combat Grigoriy Kravchenko shot down two (one bomber and one A5M) aircraft. But in the end, he was cut off from his formation and hard pressed by four Japanese who set his aircraft afire. He was saved by Anton Gubenko, who came to his help at the right moment.
Known Russian volunteers known to have claimed in this combat are Blagoveshchenskiy, Dushin, A. Grisenko, Gubenko, Kravchenko (two), I. Puntus, Georgiy Zakharov and A. Zingaev. The major success of the volunteers was explained by the Japanese fighters, which were late at the rendezvous with their bombers, and also by the Soviets’ successful use of the clouds.
AA at Wuchang also fired at the Japanese aircraft over Hanyang and claimed two of them.
A total of 21 Japanese aircraft, 11 fighters and 10 bombers, were claimed shot down in this fierce 30-minute battle and 50 aircrew were killed. Two parachuted and were captured. However, it has only been possible to verify two lost G3M2s.
Twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed; identified are Chen Huai-Min, starshiy leytenant Lev Zakharovich Shuster (born 1914) and kapitan Aleksey Yevgen’yevich Uspenskiy (born 1906). Shuster was reportedly killed while colliding with a Japanese aircraft.
The Japanese reported that when their formation appeared over Hankow, a reported 78 I-15s and I-16s rose to intercept. They claimed that in a 30-minute battle they destroyed no fewer than 40 Chinese aircraft while themselves losing only two A5Ms (PO2c Ken-ichi Takahasi (Pilot 19) and PO3c Kinji Fujiwara (Pilot 29) being killed) and two G3M2s. During this combat Motonari Suho claimed his first victory (totally 15 victories – 11 in China) but his own aircraft received hits, however; on the way, back to base he had to make an emergency landing at Anking because he ran out of fuel. Lieutenant Takahide Aioi claimed his first two victories when he shot down two I-15s (totally 10 victories – 5 in China). The Japanese attribute the greatest part of their success to the inexperience of their opponents. In other accounts (also based on Japanese sources), 67 Soviet aircraft participated in the battle, of 19 I-15bis and six I-16s were flown by Soviet volunteers. According to these accounts the Chinese lost nine aircraft and four pilots.
After this fierce combat Japanese did not attack Wuhan for a month.

In February 1939, he was commander of the 17th PS, which was equipped with I-15bis.

At 13:50 on 20 February 1939, the Air Defence Command at Sian notified the 1st Air District Command that 30 Japanese aircraft (Mitsubishi Ki-21s and Fiat BR.20s) were heading towards Lanzhou in the Kansu province in Northwest China.
Nine I-15bis from 17th PS were scrambled first to intercept the Japanese aircraft and was later joined by two more. Later Russian volunteers were scrambled at 14:05 with seven I-15bis and one I-16. At 14:10 four I-15bis from the 15th PS, one I-16 and one Curtiss Hawk took off from the Siku field.
The first formation of nine Japanese aircraft attacked the Lanzhou airfield from north-west at 14:50. The second formation of twelve aircraft attacked from west at 15:15 together with a third formation of nine aircraft.
Captain Shen Tse-Liu, commander of the 17th PS, shot down the lead aircraft of a squadron of nine Japanese aircraft. His vice-commander Ma Kwok-Lim shot down the second aircraft of the third flight. Kuo Yao-Nan downed one Japanese aircraft. They were soon joined by the I-15bis flown by Russians and the 15th PS led by Lee Teh-Piao and Chang Tang-Tien. Shen later shot down another aircraft from the third Japanese formation.
Nine of the Russian pilots taking part in this combat was Petr Abramov (I-16), kapitan Nikolay Gavrilov (I-16), leitenant Konstantin Gromov (Polikarpov I-15bis or I-16), leitenant Konstantin Kanteyev (Polikarpov I-15bis or I-16), Mikhail Naydenko (Polikarpov I-15bis or I-16), Vladimir Vasilievich Zolotarev (Polikarpov I-15bis or I-16), leitenant Sergey Donchenko (I-16), starshiy leitenant Timofey Ovsyannikov (I-15bis) and leitenant Andrey Petrunin (I-15bis), who all eight are credited with nine shared enemy bombers over Lanzhou during the day. This indicate that all the Russian volunteers taking part received credits for all the claimed aircraft and that no individual claims were recorded.
Abramov was to become an ace during the Great Patriotic War when he claimed five victories (and a total of 25 shared) before being killed in air combat on 11 September 1941. Naydenko also became an ace during the Great Patriotic War when he claimed seven victories. Zolotarev claimed two victories during the Soviet-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940.
On this day, the bombs fell on the city and not the airbase and totally nine of the bombers were claimed destroyed by the returning Chinese pilots. One of the Soviet volunteers was wounded during the combat. The Air Defence Command at Sian observed only 21 Japanese aircraft retreating to the east after the battle.
It seems that the Japanese bombers were from the 12th, 60th and 98th Kokutais.

On 4 November 1939 72 G3Ms (36 from the 13th Ku, 18 each from the Kisarazu and Kanoya Ku) attacked Chengtu in Sichuan Province in retaliation for a highly successful attack on the Hankow Huang-chia-tun Airfield on 14 October 1939. (DB-3 bombers flown by Soviet volunteers, who destroyed over 50 Japanese Army and Navy aircraft made this attack.) The G3Ms came over in two formations, each with 36 aircraft. Captain Okuda (nicknamed ‘King of the Bombers’), commander of the 13th Ku, led the first formation with all of the aircraft from 13th Ku.
The Chinese responded by sending two formations against the attackers. The first Japanese formation was heavily attacked by seven Dewoitine D510s of the 17th PS, led by Captain Shen Tse-Liu and seven I-15bis from the 27th PS led by Captain Hsie Chuan-Ho. The 27th PS first made contact with the 13th Ku about 4,000m over Fenghuang Shan. The Chinese Air Raid Warning Net had given ample warning and the Chinese fighters, equipped with oxygen and radio receivers in the lead aircraft, were able to climb and attack the Japanese from above. Diving down at 65 degrees from behind, the I-15bis concentrated on the leading flight of G3M's. After the initial pass, the I-15bis followed up with firing passes from the rear at the same level or slightly below. Then came the cannon armed D510. Captain Shen led his squadron in a level attack from the front. (Past experience had shown that when firing in a dive, the spring tension of the drum magazine in the Hispano HS-404 cannon was insufficient to feed the gun causing stoppages.) This time, under ideal conditions, Shen was able to make one devastating head-on pass on Okuda's G3M. Multiple hits by the deadly 20mm cannon set Okuda's G3M on fire at the right wing root. The fire then spread to the fuselage fuel tanks. The G3M then nosed over in a dive, which resulted in both wings snapping away. Shen and his squadron turned around to attack the Japanese formation form the rear. This was when the concentrated firepower of the G3Ms began to tell. Shen’s D510 No. 5921 was damaged and he made a forced landing in which he was injured. Another D510 (No. 5924 flown by Lieutenant Chen Kwei-min) was damaged in the fuel tank but managed to land safely. Three 27th PS I-15bis were slightly damaged. Another G3M was shot out of formation smoking heavily but was not seen to crash by the time the Chinese fighters retired.
The second Chinese formation was led by deputy group commander Wang Han-Hsun and included nine I-15bis led by Captain Ma Kwok-Lim of the 29th PS and six I-16’s of the 26th PS. Included in Ma’s group were Lieutenant Teng Chung-Kai, now promoted to deputy squadron leader. They met the Kisarazu and Kanoya formation over Taiping-shi Airfield. Ma led the I-15bis in a vertical diving pass on the leading flight of the formation. After the initial pass, the I-15bis turned back to attack from below and behind. They were joined by two I-16's from the 26th PS, which had become separated from their formation. After the first two passes, the volume of return fire from the Japanese formation was seen to appreciably slacken. The lead ship from the Shotai to the right of the leading shotai was seen to catch fire and gradually descend below the formation. Teng in I-15bis No. 2903 was credited with hitting this aircraft and contributing to it falling out of formation. In a final firing pass from behind and below, the concentrated return fire from the Japanese formation hit Teng’s aircraft and he crashed to his death. Wang Han-Hsun in I-15bis “V-2” was wounded and made a forced landing. All but one of the other I-15bis were damaged and three more had to make forced landings (I-15bis nos. 2910, 2904, 2907). Both of the 26th PS I-16s were also shot up badly, one, No. 2609 crashed at Jintang, killing its pilot Lieutenant Tuan Wan-Yu and the other, No. 2604 force landed at Pengshang.
During the attack, the Japanese dropped over 100 bombs on Fenghuang Shan Airfield. The second Japanese formation of 36 aircraft dropped over 200 bombs on Wenjiang Air Field. They destroyed one aircraft and two trainers on the ground.
After the battle, the Chinese found three wrecks and the bodies of Okuda and one of his Buntaicho. The Japanese, however, admitted to a total of 4 losses.

At the end of 1940 the 5th PG was re-equipped with Polikarpov I-153s.

At 09:15 on 14 March 1941 twelve Japanese Zeroes from the 12th Kokutai escorting ten carrier-based attack planes were spotted flying towards Chengdu in the Szechuan Province. The 3rd Route Commander of the Chinese Air Force ordered the 3rd and 5th PGs to intercept them, while the present bombers were ordered to relocate to Lanzhou.
The two groups had a combined strength of 31 I-153s. Major Wong Sun-Shui, Commander of the 5th PG led nine I-153s at 7500 feet and Captain Shen Tse-Liu, his vice-commander led eleven I-153s at 7000 feet while Captain Chou Ling-Hsu, commander of the 28th PS of the 3rd PG led another eleven I-15bis’ at 6800 feet. 3rd PG had t this time just flown in from Hami
The twelve Zeroes flew in two formations, with seven flying at low level, and five providing top-cover high above. The Chinese attacked, and battle was joined over Shangliu, southwest of Chengdu. Four of Major Wong Sun-Shui’s I-153s had to drop out because of mechanical problems. He, however, pressed on with the attack and was fatally wounded after a shot in the head. Ren Yen was also killed in this action.
Captain Shen’s eleven I-153s tangled with the Zeroes near Shangliu and Shen was shot down and killed directly over the Shangliu airfield. Lin Huan and Jiang Tung-Sheng were also killed in the action.
Captain Chou’s group met the Zeroes near Chengdu. The aircraft were out of formation because of clouds and each pilot fought on his own. Chou and Yuan Fang-Bing were both killed in this action, while a third pilot made a forced landing on the water, but was strafed on the surface.
Three I-15bis from the 32nd PS also took part in this combat. These aircraft had been received at the beginning of the year from depot overhaul. Squadron commander Chen Peng-Yang was shot and a lightly wounded pilot, Qin-Bei, escaped by parachute.
The Chinese fought courageously and with determination, but their aircraft were totally outclassed by the Zeroes. Eleven I-153s were destroyed, seven were damaged, and eight pilots were killed in action. According to some sources the Chinese pilots claimed 6 enemies shot down.
Wong Sun-Shui made a forced landing at Sumatou but died two days later on 16 March in a hospital as a result of his head wound.
The returning Japanese pilots claimed 27 destroyed, 3 probables and 7 destroyed on the ground without any losses. Two and one probable were claimed by Koshiro Yamashita during dogfights at low altitude in dense mist while PO3c Masayuki Nakase (in his first combat) claimed five I-15s and one probable. PO1c Matsuo Hagiri claimed three ‘improved’ I-15s while his number two wingman, Keishu Kamihira, claimed three enemy aircraft and one probable.
General Chou Chi-Jou, C-in-C of the Chinese Air Force wept bitterly upon learning the loss of his top flyers and re-named the air base in Chengdu to “Tse-Liu Airfield” in honour of Shen.

At the time of his death Shen Tse-Liu was credited with 3 biplane victories and a total of 4. He also claimed 5 shared victories (three G3Ms and two BR.20s) of which at least one was claimed while flying biplanes.
During the war, he was decorated with the Gold Star Medal.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  15/08/37   ½ G3M (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   W Lui Shui 8th PS
1 26/04/38   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed I-15bis   Hsiao Kan 3rd PG
  29/04/38 14:00- 1 G3M2 (b) Damaged I-15bis   Wuhan area 3rd PG
2 20/02/39 14:50- 1 Enemy bomber (c) Destroyed I-15bis   Lanzhou area 17th PS
3 20/02/39 14:50- 1 Enemy bomber (c) Destroyed I-15bis   Lanzhou area 17th PS
4 04/11/39   1 G3M (d) Destroyed Dewoitine D510 # 5921 Lanchou area 17th PS
  ??/??/3?   1 G3M Shared destroyed        
  ??/??/3?   1 G3M Shared destroyed        
  ??/??/3?   1 BR.20 Shared destroyed        
  ??/??/3?   1 BR.20 Shared destroyed        

Biplane victories: 3 and at least 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 4 and 5 shared destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with the Kisarazu Ku.
(b) Claimed in combat with G3M2s of the 13th Kokutai and A5Ms of the 12th Kokutai of the Japanese Naval Air Force. Chinese pilots and Russian voluntary pilots claimed 21 Japanese aircraft, 11 fighters and 10 bombers, but it seems that only two G3M2s and two A5Ms were admitted. The Japanese claimed 40 Chinese aircraft but only twelve aircraft of the Chinese and Soviet volunteers were lost and five pilots killed.
(c) Probably a Mitsubishi Ki-21 or Fiat BR.20. It seems that the Japanese bombers were from the 12th, 60th and 98th Kokutais.
(d) G3M flown by Captain Okuda, commander of the 13th Ku shot down. The crew were killed.

Air Operations in the China Area (July 1937-August 1945)- Military History Section Headquarters, Army Forces Far East, Historica Aviation Publications
All aces of Stalin 1936-1953 – Mikhail Bykov, 2014
Chinese Air Force Gladiators in Action - D. Y. Louie, 1998 Small Air Forces Observer vol. 22 no. 4 (88) December 1998 kindly provided by Santiago Flores.
Japanese Naval Aces and Fighter Units in World War II - Ikuhiko Hata and Yasuho Izawa, translated by Don Cyril Gorham, 1989 United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, ISBN 0-87021-315-6
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part II - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 10 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Soviet Fighters in the sky of China, Part IV - Anatolii Demin, 2000 Aviatsiia Kosmonavtika 11 (translated by George M. Mellinger)
Stars & Bars - Frank Olynyk, 1995 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-17-5
Additional information kindly provided by Raymond Cheung and Tom Chan Andrei Demjanko and Mirek Wawrzyński.

Last modified 26 April 2021